South Korea: Hagwon vs. International Schools

On a totally different topic from what is usually covered in this blog, just thought I would write a bit about my current experience, teaching at an International Elementary School here in Korea,  and  comparison of this kind of work with a standard “Hagwon”/”Hakwon”  (Private academy).

While “Private Academy” sounds rather prestigious in many countries, those familiar with English learning in South Korea will understand that Private Hagwons are “a dime a dozen,”  and often not very prestigious institutions,  though of course they range in quality,  being privately run.

In comparison,  “Public School” jobs are rather more difficult to obtain in Korea (though not particularly hard,  the remaining positions are generally done through GEPIK or similar programs),   but are  far more sparse these days, due to government cutbacks in hiring of Native English instructors.

An  “International School,”  like the one I teach at now,  is generally privately run (like a hagwon),  but is generally far more reputable,  and the primary difference is that this school is the Primary/Main  school for it’s students (they attend in the daytime),  as compared with hagwons which are usually afterschool academies.

So whereas in a Hagwon position I was working afternoon/evening hours  (from about 1:30 pm to about 9:30 pm, though I often stayed a bit later, till around 10, voluntarily),   now at my present International elementary school,  I work in the daytime,  from about 7:50 am to 4:10 pm.

These hours are actually far preferable for me, though all people are different.   I know some people actually enjoy being able to sleep in very late, and work late.

For me, I enjoy the natural aspect of being able to wake up in the morning, (with the sun and most of the animals), and being finished by the afternoon, giving me the evening free.   But again, everyone has different preferences.     (and to be sure, I actually wouldn’t mind sleeping in an extra hour or so).

The biggest differences are probably in the details of instruction.

Hagwons often use largely “pre-packaged” lessons, out of textbook, etc.

At my hagwon (an academy for students all the way from Elementary grade 1, to first year high school),  we primarily worked basically straight out of English textbooks.  (actually, rather low-quality  Korean-produced English textbooks,  occasionally with  typos  or slightly awkward Konglish constructions).

For this hagwon work, there was little preparation necessary (though I always went through the pages in advance), as teachers (I was the only Native English teacher there actually),  were expected to stick very closely to the curriculum, and make sure pages were completed.

Though this saved prep time, it certainly left something to be desired in terms of a feeling of autonomy or control over lesson planning,  or the ability to be more creative with how we did things in class.   That was certainly lacking at the hagwon.

(though at my hagwon, this was partly made up for by a demand to make “activities” (often silly games and things), for the younger students.   I personally found this to be often a burden and a chore, though some teachers who love making up games, etc., might actually enjoy this aspect).

International School:  More Freedom and Creativity Involved in Lesson Planning

In contrast, at my International School,  there are fewer class hours,  but more prep time,  but I must make all my own lesson plans,  and design my lessons with some creativity.

I have more leeway to complete the curriculum as I see fit (though there are still arbitrary requirements to fill all the pages, etc., etc.),  but there is much more autonomy to design my own lessons,  ability to show relevant videos in class,  discuss things in a more open-ended manner, etc.

In this respect, I far prefer the International School format, (and can see why they are more discerning with the teachers they hire),  because frankly,  having some autonomy over how one does one’s job is a major aspect of job satisfaction,  and this makes my work far more interesting and fulfilling, where I can design and plan my own lessons how I like.

Have any experiences with hagwons / Public schools / International Schools in Korea?  If so, leave a comment and let me know.  Thanks for the feedback.  Until next time, warm wishes.